Review: Astell&Kern AK70ii – One up.

AK70 vs AK70ii

As already mentioned, the main difference between both AK70 versions is the single vs double DAC. To be extra clear about this: yes, it is the same DA-chip, just in a double config. Then there’s also the extra battery capacity and the higher output volume. The full overview of differences can be seen in the picture below.

AK70ii Sound

The impressions below are based on Firmware version 1.03, which is the latest up to date.

Just like before, the Astell&Kern AK70ii is on the warmer and smoother side of sound but at the same time it shows good detail and reasonably good clarity. The AK70ii’s sound stage wide and depth is good and very correct at the price it is going for. You don’t get the layering and spaciousness of the higher end models however, but you just can’t expect that. Compared to the original model – but we’ll get back to that in a bit – the new AK70ii is more spacious sounding with better separation. The newest version also has better extension compared to before and these 3 elements really lift up the performance of the DAP, in a very positive way.

I’ve both used the single ended and balanced output equally and depending on the monitor/IEM in use I prefer the balanced or SE output. I hate to repeat myself but the 2.5mm out has a more expansive sound, with a little less bass and body but with more air and separation. The AK70ii always has a black background and it is completely silent even with my most hiss sensitive custom monitors. These all are reasons why I sound-wise love the AK gear so much.

The AK70ii’s bass and mids do have bigger body (definitely more than neutral) and the treble section is soft and smooth and it won’t ever sound harsh or sharp in any way. The AK70ii of course sounds musical, full bodied and rich but I in no way can say it’s neutrally tuned. Compared to the competition the AK70ii still isn’t the fastest sounding DAP, as its attack and pace is moderate.

Data Source (OTG) & DAC & Line-Out

I have to say I almost never use the AK70ii as a data source only. I have of course tried it with the Chord Mojo (and it works great) but I on the go tend to use the AK70ii as the all-in-one unit it is. In my office I always use my laptop as source, most of the time with the Hugo 2 as DAC and the Lehmann Audio Drachenfels as amp. But when I forget the H2 at home, I do use the AK70ii as DAC, together with the Drachenfels amp. The DAC quality certainly is good enough to use like this, although it is not at the same level of the Chord.

At home I often use the Line-Out of the AK70ii (in combination with AK Connect) to connect it to my power amp, so that I can listen to my music on my speaker setup.

I do know a few people who use the original AK70 as an OTG source for their SP1000 or AK380, but I haven’t heard much about them using the AK70II. At the same time that’s no surprise either as there’s no benefit using the AK70II over the AK70 in this way, as you’re bypassing the new double DAC.

DLNA & Tidal

Connect the AK70ii to your local WiFi network, activate AK Connect and let the AK70 search for your DLNA network drives that hold your music library. I often use the AK70 as source in my speaker setup and it in combination with the AK Connect phone app works simply great. For some reason the system is not recognizing one of my albums, but all in all this is an excellent feature.

If you don’t have any music stored locally you can of course always use and run Tidal on the AK70ii to get your dose of music. The AK70ii or Astell&Kern isn’t the only DAP or brand offering this technology but the beauty is that it always works fast and perfectly with AK, compared to some of the other DAPs in my collection.

This at the same time is AK’s strongest and weakest point. Everything they offer works perfectly, but they’re limited customization-wise when compared to the full android devices such as the Cayin n5ii, Fiio X7ii and the Hiby R6.

Comparisons

The AK70ii has bigger body compared to the original AK70, and this both in bass as well as in the mids sector. From bass to treble the AK70ii has better layering and it has better extension and as a result is sounds even more natural. Both versions of course are warmer sounding and very musical. The detail level of the AK70ii is higher and the overall sound signature is more spacious with a better separation. Once you’re used to the AK70ii it’s kind of hard going back to the thinner sounding single DAC original, as the new edition sounds remarkably better.

The other DAP everyone wants me to compare the AK70ii to is the Cayin N5ii which is quite a lot cheaper. Of course the Cayin is full Android and it allows you to customize the player and install any software you like. In that regard it is more versatile than the AK70ii is. Sound wise the Cayin N5ii (on 3.1fw) is actually reasonably close to the Astell&Kern but at the same time it isn’t as they have some interesting differences. The Cayin is more energetic and it sounds more clear and less warm. The AK70ii’s bass and mids are somewhat thicker and the Cayin has better extension, especially in the higher mids and treble. It’s difficult to say which one sounds best as that will depend on your personal preference and the IEMs used, but technically I’d give the edge to the Cayin this time.

Synergy

The PlusSound Prism, in combination with the balanced terminated Exo cable sounds musical and rich. I especially like the layering, depth, bass impact and L/R balance but for some people this combination might sound a bit too warm and muffled. I wouldn’t call it muffled myself but the clarity level of this combination simply isn’t very high. The voices however sound so natural and everything is delivered in a smooth way, warm way making it very musical combo.

The brand new FIBAE 3 in combination with the 3.5mm finished Effect Audio Leonidas cable excels in clarity, speed and precision. You get a fast pace, great richness and all that with good body from bass to treble. The treble extension is very nice in the Fibae 3 but the AK70ii is making that a tad softer. You get a much cleaner sound compared to the Prism, where upper mids and vocals have a more forward presentation. The AK70ii delivers it all in a dynamic, precise and musical package which very clear vocals and great energy. A lovely combination except for those that want more extended treble, but then the AK70ii simply isn’t the ideal DAP for you.

With the Audeze iSine20 IEMs the first things you notice is the AK70ii’s volume going up. The iSine20 sounds very rich and warmer but it’s retaining great clarity and speed. I love how rich this combo sounds and at the same time it is musical and very easy to listen to. Extension and layering is really good and both the body in bass and mids is excellent. It gives the iSine20 a nice mix of impact and precision.

Jomo Audio’s new 1 BA-driver, the HAKA, is one of my favourite IEMs with the AK70ii. You get good speed, excellent bass, rich mids, natural voices and all that with a warmer and smoother tonality. Extension, even in the treble region, is very nice but you don’t get a very wide sound stage. You have a more centered sound but with great voices and excellent depth. It’s a very musical combo where bass and mids really shine.

I wouldn’t in generally recommend using full sized headphones straight out of the AK70ii, but as Sennheiser keeps saying the HD660S is so easy to drive, I just had to test this combo. You again have to turn up the volume but the end result is better than I expected. I still recommend using the HD660S from a dedicated amplifier but this could perfectly serve as a back-up solution. You get good bass and a warmer sound but the speed and energy levels of the HD660s simply are lacking here. You get a very soft presentation which is easy to listen to but to me it’s a bit lifeless.

In general I would say the AK70ii will have the best synergy with ear- and headphones that have above average bass and good body and richness in the mids. Treble will never be the most extended, lively or detailed, but you will get a musical, smooth and warmer sound signature.

The Fiio X7ii is in the same price class but it’s a whole different device and experience. Like the N5ii this is a full Android DAP and it’s customizable. Another extra strong feature of the X7ii are the changeable amplifier modules, which allow you to get the best possible sound for your head- or earphone. Sound wise the Fiio X7ii is also very different. You get a more neutral sound with a tight and fast presentation. The warmth, smoothness and body that are present in the AK70ii are not to be found here. I still think the X7ii is a great sounding DAP and when comparing it to the AK70ii it is the most or typical audiophile tuned one. For some reason however I don’t like using the X7ii on the go (size maybe?) and I love the AK70(ii) when I’m out. At home I’m always using the Sony WM1Z or SP1000 and so the X7ii hardly gets any play time.

Conclusion

Just like the original AK70, the new 2nd edition is a winner DAP. Not looking at sound, there’s isn’t that much difference between these units so it wouldn’t make any sense stating the AK70ii isn’t awesome anymore. Like I said: what AK does, it does perfectly so. The new AK70ii is still perfectly built, it’s extremely well-functioning, it’s easy to use and take with you on the go, and it’s oh so beautiful.

Sound-wise the AK70ii is a step up from the original DAP. Once you’re used to the higher level of detail, the better extension, bigger body and improved layering, it will be very tough going back to the good old AK70. A lot of readers ask me if the AK70ii is worth upgrading to from the AK70, but that’s only a question you can answer yourself. For some it will be, for others it won’t.

In the end, the Astell&Kern AK70ii DAP is a great little DAP and I personally love using it on the go as it’s so easy to work with, even when it’s inside your pocket. Sound wise it’s hard not to like the musical delivery and using/listening to the AK70ii is a pure joy.

To me this is an update well done but it does make me wonder what Astell&Kern will come up with next. I suppose we’ll know more right before High End it Munich…

The Full Specs can be found on Page Three of this article, right HERE

Review: Astell&Kern AK70ii – One up.
4 (80.47%) 43 vote[s]

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Lieven is living in Europe and he's the leader of the gang. He's running Headfonia as a side project next to his full time day job in Digital Marketing & Consultancy. He's a big fan of tube amps and custom inear monitors and has published hundreds of product reviews over the years.

33 Comments

  • Reply February 15, 2018

    Amigoz

    How it is compared with Hiby R6 – sound signature, weight of body?

  • Reply February 15, 2018

    Barun C

    It was a nice review, but I don’t agree with the following.

    “The AK70ii’s sound stage wide and depth is good and very correct at the price it is going for.”

    This is almost like the RE2000 comment made by Fang, where cost is justified by the sound quality. A general co-relation of pricing exists with every commercially sold product, but this is a very generalised objective statement, which doesn’t exist in audio, everything is supposed to be subjective.

    • Reply February 15, 2018

      Lieven

      Hey Barun. long time no seen 🙂
      I see your point but when you are so lucky as I am to listen to so much gear, you clearly start to see and experience “levels” at different price points. Like <100 / 100-300 / 300-500 / 500 - 800 etc. It's in that regard that I regularly comment about a product being "on par" with the price level.

  • Reply February 15, 2018

    Barun C

    You guys should get the QP2R or even the QP1R, cause that might be a contender which will mess up the price/sq theory. Just my 2 cents.

  • Reply February 15, 2018

    OLEG

    Thanks for the interesting review. Could you also compare AK 70ii to Sony ZX300 (soundwise only)? And by the way, we’re all waiting for the ZX300 review 🙂

    • Reply February 16, 2018

      Booker

      Second this – eagerly awaiting the ZX300 review! 🙂

  • Reply February 16, 2018

    timmy

    Probably not a good comparison, but what do you think about the AK70ii vs the Shanling M3s?

    I’ve always wanted the AK70 as my first entry into AK, and the AK70ii now makes it almost perfect. But I’m so tempted by the M3s after reading your review here, not to mention it’s almost half the price and smaller in size.

    I have the Shanling M1 so I know I’m definitely gonna love the M3s. So I guess my question is, do I want another Shanling or is it worth it to pay double to get what I always wanted?

  • Reply February 16, 2018

    Bots

    Would the AK70 MkII be a comparable device to the Opus#1, given they both have the same DAC setup (dual Cirrus Logic CS4398)?

  • Reply February 16, 2018

    Heuggen

    Great review!
    I’m about to purchase my first DAP and I’m between these because I’ve read very good comments from many sources and they’re not very far in price(550-699). Which would be your choice?

    Fiio X7 Mark2
    HiBy R6
    AK70ii.

    I will use it with AKG K712pro and Meze 99 Classics, streaming from TIDAL and using ALAC files.

    • Reply February 16, 2018

      Amigoz

      HEUGGEN, I will get my Hiby R6 soon and will test it wit Meze 99C, do not expect here that reviewers will give you reply how it is compared one to another DAP, i asked for it few times, just silence from their side as they somehow can not just do simple comparison and tell at least which DAP they prefer by some reasons, maybe other DAP suppliers pay money for it…
      I also was between X7 II, AK70II, but bought R6 from indiegogo as price was attractive, due also limitations to hear live in my country these DAP’s this is such reality that you must count on reviews… But as soon as i get i will write honest comment if do not ir will like hiby R6 with Meze 99C. One reviewer wrote that with meze 99C it may be better tweaked sound to your liking on R6 than X7MARK II

  • Reply February 16, 2018

    Heuggen

    Thank you AMIGOZ! it’s a shame we can’t know which would they prefer, anyway, I would appreciate your thoughts on this Combo R6/99C. I’m also thinking about the R6 because the price but the other two are a little more experienced brands so it’s a really hard decision. Good luck with your R6!!!

    • Reply February 23, 2018

      Amigo Z

      Hi short test, R6 is too analitical for me with Meze99C , but you can tweak sound if play flac file, I stream from Tidal most of time, so my old fiio e17k with w4s USB recovery pkaays smoother, but.. I put in my main system avoiding my DAC directly to tube amp and it is really nice, shortly it is not amazing experience, but it is not bad, my score 8/10. Nobody will play with 8bals on every song, for me it is too sharp with meze99c I think other caps should work better, my feeling is for canyon i5 or n5ii!!!

  • Reply February 18, 2018

    Ken

    Head scratcher to me that they have not enabled some sort of browser so the user can log into hotel wifi servers. My biggest frustration with my AK70. No Tidal away from home.

  • Reply February 22, 2018

    Luis André Ferreira

    Are the bluetooth specs exact the same as in the old AK70? Thanks!

  • Reply February 23, 2018

    Amigo Z

    Hi short test, R6 is too analitical for me with Meze99C , but you can tweak sound if play flac file, I stream from Tidal most of time, so my old fiio e17k with w4s USB recovery pkaays smoother, but.. I put in my main system avoiding my DAC directly to tube amp and it is really nice, shortly it is not amazing experience, but it is not bad, my score 8/10. Nobody will play with 8bals on every song, for me it is too sharp with meze99c I think other caps should work better, my feeling is for caiyn i5 or n5ii!!!

  • Reply February 24, 2018

    Amigo Z

    OK, just managed, when you make from dop to pcm 8bals working, now it is great 🙂 but streaming from tidal not allows you to equalize it, so it is good player, but not how I want or maybe I do not know something how to mange 8 bald with Tidal! It is really good DAP!

  • Reply February 24, 2018

    Don Vittorio Sierra

    It may be a stupid question but anyway here goes lol… How does the sound from the single ended jack compare with that of an ipad pro 10.5 inch for example? Power and sonically…

  • Reply February 24, 2018

    Albert C

    is there any lag in the sound when used as a day for a desktop setup?

  • Reply February 25, 2018

    Chaturanga

    I did not find Cayin N5ii as a clear winner over even Fiio X5 iii, but you are saying N5ii is closer to AK70 MKii, that was very interesting to hear 🙂

    I agree that N5ii is more open sounding but is that enough to sound better? AK70 MKii is warmer and darker yes, but also AK70 MKii is smoother, has excellent resolution, more controlled presentation (in positive way) and giving a tasty complete musical experience with almost every genre.

    N5ii looses control time to time in that open presentation. When I listened N5ii I was thinking something was not finished yet and DAP was not a final version.

    Anyway, I will try to listen both to make AB test later again.

  • Reply March 2, 2018

    Malcolm Daw

    I recently made a blind purchase, an excellent product overall.
    My only gripe is the fact, whilst Tidal compatible, there is no way to down load even with my Tidal Hi-Fi account from Tidal to the internal storage,something that even my wife’s crummy LG smartphone allows.I would have preferd to pay more(Tidal licence fee) for this product with this feature included.

    • Reply March 5, 2018

      Lieven

      That is a bummer to many indeed

  • Reply March 23, 2018

    Fredrik Parapat

    i checked on amazon, AK70 MK2 vs AK300 price almost identical. if using only for DAP without additional amp, which one would you recommended?

  • Reply March 24, 2018

    Seanwee

    “The Cayin is more energetic and it sounds more clear and less warm. The AK70ii’s bass and mids are somewhat thicker and the Cayin has better extension, especially in the higher mids and treble.”

    Thanks for the comparison, now I’m sure that I have no regrets. The N5ii simply punches way above its price range. I have yet to try the Opus 1s but it bests similarly priced DAPs (FiiO X5iii, Hidizs AP200, Opus 1)

  • Reply April 22, 2018

    Darren Cotter

    I know it’s been mentioned above, but how does the FiiO X7ii compare with the AK70ii?

    • Reply April 23, 2018

      Lieven

      The Fiio X7ii is much cleaner sounding. While it depends on the AM module used, the Fiio is never as warm and smooth sounding as the AK is. It has a more neutral tuning with better clarity.

  • Reply April 29, 2018

    Adam

    zx300 vs ak70mkII?

  • Reply May 2, 2018

    XiaXueYi

    AK70ii and Grado RS1e. Smooth pairing, some of the sweetest mids I’ve heard. You guys should try it!

    Also I’m personally using AK70ii > UE18+, excellent details and imaging with coherency throughout the spectrum.

  • Reply May 19, 2018

    Ajay

    How does this compare with the AK100II?

  • Reply August 30, 2019

    Bobby

    The operating system is more stable than most mid-price Android-based dedicated music players, but that’s about it for upsides, because ever since Sony came out with their vastly more affordable Walkman variant model this middling music player just isn’t worth what they are asking for it. The build quality sucks. It’s not a case of if the headphone jack will go, it’s a case of when. I bought the squaretrade insurance and they’ve repaired it about four times already, but they never really fix it adequately because it always breaks in the same way again, sometimes within days. The frequency balance is decent, but who cares because it will only work correctly for about 7 months at most. Crap hardware from a crap company.

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